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Problem-Oriented Policing

Problem-oriented policing (POP) was a policing model first proposed by Herman Goldstein in the late 1970s (Goldstein, 1979). Goldstein was critical of what he considered at the time to be an over-emphasis on the means of policing (operational 'efficiency' - for example, the rapidity of policing responses) and an under-emphasis on the ends of policing, in terms of effects and outcomes of policing. POP was to prioritise the solving of problems as the key 'ends' of policing and the core of the policing mandate - whether those problems be vandalism, street robbery, domestic violence, or acts of terrorism. Goldstein proposed a systematic approach to problem-solving which proceeded by asking the following questions (Goldstein, 1979, p. 243):

What are the problems that citizens look to the police to handle?

What do we know about the problem in question?

What more could we know about the problem with further research?

Should the problem be a proper concern for the authorities?

What resources are available for dealing with it?

How do the police currently deal with the problem?

Taking a holistic view, what might be the most intelligent response?

If a new response is adopted, how might its effectiveness be evaluated?

This early framework was later to be developed into a full policing model (Goldstein, 1990; Tilley, 2008). Savage (2007, p. 57) has argued that this model of policing constitutes a remodelling of the functions of the police officer around three themes:

  1. The Police Officer as 'Researcher' - Gathering data and information on problems and possible solutions.
  2. The Police Officer as 'Analyst' - Interpreting data in systematic ways (such as crime pattern analysis).
  3. The Police Officer as 'Mobilizer of Community Resources' - Working from the 'front line' to harness and direct community resources in certain (problem-oriented) directions in order to cement community cohesion.

Goldstein's model of POP was developed into a practitioner framework which became known as SARA (Eck & Spelman, 1987). SARA operates as a policing 'tool' and outlines a four stage process for approaching and dealing with a policing problem:


Scanning - The process of accumulating knowledge to identify patterns and, subsequently, the problems.

Analysis - The process of further investigating the nature of the problem and its causes; part of the analysis may relate to features of the victim (such as victimisation in the past), features of the location of the incidents (a crime 'hot spot'?), or features of the offender (repeat offender?).

Response - Deciding upon, and implementing a planned strategy to deal with the problem, preferably in consultation with the community and other appropriate agencies.

Assessment - Evaluating the impact of the response on the problem and seeing what lessons could be learned.

POP and the SARA framework became highly influential across British policing during the 1990s (Leigh, Read & Tilley, 1996). One local scheme, in Leicestershire, captured much of the ethos of the POP model of policing:

In this respect POP may be seen as a 'community-oriented' way of dealing with 'broken windows' rather than a 'law enforcement approach' as in ZTP. Many of the ideas behind POP were later to be reflected in the British policing model of 'neighbourhood policing', which was also to value the role played by front line officers in problem identification and community engagement and community mobilization. POP was much more than a passing phase.

Part of the ethos of POP was also to be reflected in the final policing model considered here: 'intelligence-led policing'.